Kirk Cousins Shines for Washington Redskins, but Shanahan Offense Is Real Winner

James DudkoFeatured ColumnistDecember 16, 2012

Dec 16, 2012; Cleveland, OH, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (12) warms up before a game against the Cleveland Browns at Cleveland Browns Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports
Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports

Kirk Cousins shined in relief of Robert Griffin III, but it was the Shanahan offense that allowed him to flourish. The system keyed a crucial 38-21 road win over the Cleveland Browns.

The impressive trouncing puts the Redskins at 8-6. It earns them a share of first place in the NFC East with the New York Giants.

The most impressive thing was how the Redskins used the same offensive game plan they have relied on all season. That is the Shanahan blueprint, and when the Redskins are armed with it, they can score points with or without Griffin.

Given how significant he has been to Washington's offensive design and scoring output, not many would expect the Redskins to score 30-plus points without Griffin.

His dual-threat skill set has enabled the Redskins to mix in option-read concepts with their familiar zone-based schemes. The athleticism of Griffin has keyed this potent mix.

So when he was ruled out of Week 15 action, many might have expected Mike and Kyle Shanahan to alter their play-calling. Not only did they resist that temptation, but they seemed to put even greater emphasis on some of their key concepts.

Those included the play-action pass, particularly off rollouts and bootlegs. Even without Griffin's threat to make plays with his feet, the Redskins stuck to the principles of their passing game.

That meant Cousins spent most of the game moving the pocket, in true Shanahan style. The results were spectacular.

The fourth-round pick finished with 329 yards and two touchdowns through the air. You could probably count on one hand the number of passes that didn't come off play action.

Testing the edges of defenses is the essence of the Shanahan offense, in both the running and passing games. With the Browns keying the zone-stretch runs that have made Alfred Morris a star, play action became Cousins' best friend.

That's the whole idea and purpose behind the Shanahan scheme. However, success via the pass didn't encourage the Redskins to move away from the run.

Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was guilty of abandoning the run too easily at times last season. He often skewed the play-calling mix too far in favor of the pass.

Equipped with a dependable workhorse like Morris, Shanahan is now letting the run be the catalyst. That's how the system is supposed to work.

Morris found the going tough against the Browns' stacked defensive fronts, especially early. Where they might have gone away from him last year, the Shanahans instead stayed patient with Morris.

That patience was rewarded going into the fourth quarter. Consistently chipping away with the run wore down the Browns and cutback lanes began to open.

In the Shanahan offense, everything in the running game is built off the stretch play. It's a run based around a fluid design, as the Browns found out.

With Cleveland's defense overplaying the edges, Morris made earlier cuts in the initial stretch and attacked the middle. That's because the Shanahan ground game trusts a runner's vision and instincts.

It also inevitably pulls defensive fronts apart, stretching them to breaking point, if you will. That's what it did to the Browns, who surrendered three rushing scores in the second half.

The Shanahan scheme allowed another rookie quarterback to flourish for the Redskins this season. It enabled Washington's offense to do what they've done all year, even without Griffin.

Often times, coaches abandon schemes before they have the players to successfully execute them. Improved players such as Griffin and Morris at the skill positions have revived the Shanahan offense.

However, it is the scheme itself that is helping the young players produce big numbers and is finally winning games.